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What's to be done about iTunes? Tweak? Strip? Split?

Christopher Breen | Nov. 10, 2014
Each iteration of iTunes invites the question: How else might this be done? Chris Breen ponders the possibilities.

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The reaction to iTunes 12 and its rejiggered interface was predictable. While some found the Yosemite-like look less cluttered and easier to navigate, others were confounded by the feature reshuffling and redesign. Each opinion has its merits, but few people would argue that iTunes is perfect. And that invites the obvious question: If iTunes in its current form (and past several forms) is imperfect, what can be done with it? This set me thinking.

So. Many. Features.
A common rejoinder to complaints about iTunes is to love it or leave it--if you don't care for it, use a different media manager. But it's a short-sighted suggestion unless you think of iTunes only as a simple media jukebox. Sure, iTunes can wear that hat, but it handles far more tasks, including:

  • Rip and play audio CDs
  • Convert audio and video formats
  • Obtain, organize, and play media (music, movies, TV shows, music videos, podcasts, audiobooks, iTunes U content)
  • Obtain and organize iOS apps
  • Organize and sync ringtones
  • Create and manage playlists
  • Sync media to mobile devices
  • Share media libraries
  • Tag media
  • Stream Internet radio
  • Stream iTunes Radio
  • Gateway to cloud-stored media
  • Gateway to the iTunes Store

At one time there were several third-party tools for handling some of these jobs, but nothing then or now can touch all of them. This is partly due to the proprietary nature of Apple's devices and some of the media obtained from its stores, as Apple's not interested in having others share in the fun. But it's also that Apple has--in this arena as in others--sucked the air out of the room. What developer in their right mind would attempt to create and sell a media manager with fewer features when iTunes can be had for free?

Where some see clutter, others find comprehensiveness. Power users want the majority of these features, yet these are the people who often gripe the loudest as, with each iTunes iteration, their favorite obscure feature becomes harder to find or use.

The big rethink
And so we confront both rock and hard place. How does Apple move forward in a way that doesn't invite complaint? With iTunes 11--and more so with iTunes 12--Apple has attempted to make working with your media a more contextual experience with the idea of simplifying the interface. In iTunes 11, when you hide the sidebar, you choose particular kinds of media from a pop-up menu in the top-left corner. Just select the media type you want and it appears in the pane below. You then navigate through it using one of a series of buttons centered in the toolbar.

With iTunes 12, Apple has taken the next step and largely done away with the sidebar. If you now want to navigate through your media, you click on a media button in the toolbar--Music, Movies, or TV shows, for example--and, as with iTunes 11 before it, you then select something from the results below. Underscoring the idea, when you navigate your way to the iTunes Store, clicking one of those buttons moves you to the associated section in the store, rather than back to your local media--so, click the Music button while you're in the iTunes Store and you see what new albums and tracks are on offer that day. It's not difficult to see why some people find these dual-purpose buttons confusing.


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